Turkey and Tamales: Appreciating a Multicultural Thanksgiving through Stories and Food


It reminded me of the Indian Stew my elementary school prepared for our Thanksgiving feast: ground beef, V8 juice, potatoes, carrots, corn, lima beans. I made it for my family this year, and we called in Wampanoag Stew.

We learned there’s not a clear consensus about the proper term for those first indigenous Americans— Native American, American Indian, Indigenous, etc.—but when possible use the specific tribal name. This reminded me of what I’ve heard from many Hispanics or Latinos: they’d identify more readily as Mexican, Puerto Rican, or Chilean, rather than Hispanic or Latino!

Some American Indians don’t find Thanksgiving to be a celebration.

During our visit to New York’s American Museum of Natural History (before watching the parade balloon inflation!), we noted that in the hall of Eastern Woodland Indians, the right hand showed pre-European cultural artifacts, and the left displayed items post-European influence.

As with all history, our stories aren’t perfect, but these are things to keep learning about and to continue discussing.

Thanksgiving presents a natural time to talk about where our families came from, and why those family members uprooted themselves and traveled to begin a new life. Ask the oldest member of the family to tell their stories.

Encourage your children to learn about their country or countries of origin and the unique mix of cultures that composes your family.

This particularly American holiday, Thanksgiving, reminds us to be grateful for the gifts we enjoy, like family, food, shelter, freedom—and lately it reminds me of the good things that can happen when cultures combine and influence one another.

New York City offers a world of cultures in one city. With our family to visit, the parade, and vendors setting up their Christmas tree stands on the sidewalk, New York City is becoming my favorite spot for Thanksgiving. Turkey, tamales, or both.

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Josie Ortega
Josie works at home and from home---wrangling two daughters and a baby son, and writing on parenthood, faith, and culture. She appreciates the hard work it takes to raise a multicultural family, and has a passable knowledge of spanglish. Originally from Memphis, Josie remained on the east coast after studying English and religious studies at the University of Virginia. She met her husband Israel on Capitol Hill in DC, and their dream is to open a Southern-Mexican fusion restaurant one day (but only if her suegra is available to cook).

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